Militants from Yemen’s Houthi rebel group reportedly seized a cargo ship linked to Israel in the Red Sea on Sunday, taking its 25 crew members hostage. The latest strike by the Iran-backed terrorists follows through on the group’s threat to target Israeli vessels, raising concerns about regional escalation of the Israel-Hamas war.
First reported by The Jerusalem Post, the captured cargo ship, identified as the Galaxy Leader, was sailing from Turkey to India when the Houthi militants boarded. Galaxy Leader sailed under the flag of the Bahamas on behalf of Japanese shipping company NYK Line. The 620-foot vessel, which had no cargo at the time of the hijacking, was leased from a British company partially owned by wealthy Israeli shipping magnate Abraham “Rami” Ungar.
According to NYK Line, the ship’s 25 crew members are from the Philippines, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, and Mexico — a list that notably does not include Israel.
All these factors considered, the claims of Galaxy Leader being an “Israel-linked” ship seem tenuous at best.
Video uploaded to social media by Houthi public relations accounts shows a Houthi helicopter landing on the ship’s deck and deploying a group of armed rebels. Meanwhile, smaller attack boats flying the Palestinian flag pull up alongside the ship, escorting it to the Hodeidah port area in Yemen.
Hours before the hijacking, Houthi leadership had promised to “target all types of ships that carry the flag of the Zionist entity or are operated by or owned by Israeli companies,” and called on “all countries of the world to withdraw their citizens working on the crews of the enemy entity’s ships, and to avoid shipping on them.”
The Houthis, who receive support and supplies from the Iranian regime, have launched missile and drone strikes towards Israel in the weeks following the Hamas attacks on October 7. One such strike was intercepted by a US Navy ship last month.
“Israel strongly condemns the Iranian attack against an international vessel,” said a statement from the Israeli government. “This is another act of Iranian terrorism and constitutes a leap forward in Iran’s aggression against the citizens of the free world, with international consequences regarding the security of the global shipping lanes.”
The hijacking was similarly condemned by the US and Japanese governments, the latter of which is negotiating for the return of the ship and crew.
Houthi representatives have confirmed that the hostages are unharmed and are being treated “in accordance with Islamic values,” but provided no further details.